The 2014 CEDIA Expo was one of the more exciting CEDIA Expos in a long while. Perhaps it's the fact that Denver graced us with hints of snow in early September, and the cold put a little jump in everyone's step. Perhaps the excitement stemmed from the fact that the custom-installation market is rebounding after a number of difficult years, and people were generally more optimistic. Or maybe it's just the fact that we actually had something new and exciting to cover on the audio side of the business.
Yes, that something was Dolby Atmos, and it was everywhere at the show. Atmos technology first appeared in the movie theater in 2012, and now it has arrived in the home theater. If you're not familiar with the technology, Atmos moves away from the channel-oriented soundtrack (5.1, 7.1, etc.) and replaces it with an object-oriented approach that, in part through the addition of height or overhead speakers, allows sound mixers to more precisely position sounds all around and above us to better mimic how we actually hear. You can learn more about Dolby Atmos in the home by reading this article by Dennis Burger.
To enjoy Atmos in your home theater, you'll need two things: an Atmos-equipped AV receiver or preamp and the additional "height" speakers, in the form of either in-ceiling speakers or the new Atmos-enabled speakers that add an upward-firing driver to the top of your front and surround speakers that bounces sound off the ceiling and back down to your ears. There was no shortage of new Atmos-capable electronics on display, from Onkyo, Integra, Pioneer, Denon, Marantz, Yamaha, and more. As for speakers, there were plenty of those, too: in-ceiling models, tower and bookshelf speakers with integrated up-firing drivers, and standalone up-firing Atmos modules to set on top of (or near) your existing speakers.
We heard a number of demos (all relying on the same Dolby Atmos sampler disc, which admittedly got a little tedious) using both the in-ceiling and Atmos-enabled approaches. Of course, every manufacturer had an opinion about whether it was better to go the in-ceiling or up-firing route. (Surprise, surprise - those who make in-ceiling speakers tended to champion the in-ceiling approach, while those who do not seemed to prefer the up-firing approach.) Truth be told, I heard outstanding demos from both camps, and I think it's great that the format has enough flexibility to let consumers choose, based on their budget, room environment, and preferences.
Some people already want to write off Atmos as just another gimmick to try and get people to spend money. I confess, I had never heard Dolby Atmos before the show. No movie theaters in my area offer it, and my initial feeling about the technology was, "Okay, height speakers. That's nice, but it doesn't sound like that big of a deal." Now that I've heard some great Atmos demos, however, I'm totally onboard. I love the way that it lifts and opens up the soundstage, and I'm excited to see how it evolves.
Wireless Music Systems
Sonos has been the reigning king of freestanding wireless music systems for a number of years now. For whatever reason, 2014 is the year that many other big-name speaker manufacturers have decided to seriously court those shoppers. Denon, Harman, Polk, and Definitive all showed off new wireless music systems consisting of tabletop speakers, soundbars, and adapters to incorporate your existing components. Smaller companies like Mass Fidelity and OSD Audio also showed off products in this space. As for Sonos, its big show news was an exclusive U.S. partnership with the Deezer music subscription service that allows you to stream uncompressed, CD-quality music through your Sonos system for a monthly fee.
Meaningful 4K Developments
On the video side of things, of course 4K was the marquee topic. Last week, Jerry Del Colliano covered a few recent and encouraging announcements regarding 4K content. As for hardware, the first 4K OLED TVs are set to arrive in the next two months, courtesy of LG. The 65-inch 65EC9700 and 77-inch 77EG9700 will be priced at $9,999 and $24,999, respectively (and before you ask, yes they are both curved). Also on display in LG's booth was the 105-inch 105UC9 UHD LED/LCD, priced at a mere $99,999. (Let's not all reach for our checkbooks at once, folks.)
Sony also had plenty of UHD TVs on display in its booth, but the bigger (literally) announcement was the introduction of a new ultra-short-throw 4K SXRD projector, the VPL-GTZ1, capable of producing a 147-inch-diagonal image and utilizing a laser light source to produce a rated 2,000 lumens. Sony Electronics President Mike Fasulo also announced during his keynote speech that Sony will soon unlock its FMP-X10 4K media player to work with any UHD TV.
In other projector news, Christie had a dedicated CEDIA booth for the first time and demoed a complete 4K experience. Epson will finally dip its toes into 4K waters by offering "4K enhancement" technology in its new LS10000 projector (shown, right). This technology is along the lines of JVC's e-shift technology; the projector will accept a native 4K image, but it still uses a 1080p chip, creating sub-frames and then shifting the image to create more pixel density. What's far more interesting about the LS10000 and its little brother, the LS9600e, is that they use Liquid Crystal on Quartz technology (similar to LCoS) instead of standard 3LCD, and they use a dual-laser light source. These projectors will be priced just under $8,000 and are clearly meant to take on the Sony and JVC options in that price range. (By the way, JVC did not introduce new projector models this year.)
Crestron highlighted its end-to-end DigitalMedia 4K distribution system and discussed its 4K certification program that tests and certifies 4K products that work within the company's matrix. Finally, DVDO hosted a great education seminar for press members on everything related to HDMI 2.0 and 4K, to clarify some of the more confusing issues. Expect to see a story on that topic very soon.
That's the big-picture overview of CEDIA 2014. For details on other products we saw during the four-day event, check out the slideshow below.